Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wood Chipper Murder Case

"I'll Take Care of It in the Morning!"

On January 11, an arrest warrant was issued in Newtown Court for Richard Crafts. It was a culmination of weeks of intensive and exhausting police work. That same night, at about 9:00 p.m., a dozen Connecticut state troopers and detectives responded to 5 Newfield Lane to arrest Richard Crafts. They surrounded his ranch-style house and called Crafts on the phone. He was ordered to come outside the home and surrender.

"I'm tired. I'll take care of it in the morning," Crafts replied. When police insisted he surrender immediately, Crafts became angry.

Danbury Court
Danbury Court

"Don't call me back!" he shouted and hung up. After a nail-biting series of phone calls and promises of surrender which were never fulfilled, Crafts agreed to come outside. His children were still inside the house asleep. At 12:30 a.m., Crafts told cops over the phone, "I'll be out in five minutes!" A short time later, a distraught and disheveled Crafts emerged and surrendered to the police. After an arraignment in nearby Danbury court, he was taken to the Bridgeport jail facility to await further developments. His bail was set at $750,000.

In the meantime, investigators continued the grim search in the frigid waters at Lake Zoar. The press descended upon the scene with TV cameras, microphones, huge lights and a fleet of broadcast trucks. Before the day was over, the entire nation knew the story of the man who may have killed his wife by freezing her body and running it through a woodchipper. "It's like something out of Edgar Allen Poe!" one Newtown resident told reporters. Another expressed surprise it could happen in the serene surroundings of suburban Connecticut. "I'm kind of shocked it happened in Newtown, of all places," one of Crafts' neighbors said.

Dawn Marie Thomas
Dawn Marie Thomas

But police had worked out a probable scenario of how Crafts killed his wife. Since drops of Helle's blood was found in her bedroom, they assumed that she was bludgeoned at the foot of her bed during the early morning hours of November 19, perhaps when she was making the bed or changing the sheets. Police speculated that Crafts then carried his wife's body to the basement, where he had recently hooked up the new freezer. He placed her inside the freezer and then woke up Dawn Thomas, the au pair. He told her that they should all go to his sister's house in Westport because Newtown had suffered a power failure. When Thomas asked about Helle, Richard said she would meet them at his sister's house. They drove to Westport and after dropping off the kids and Thomas, Richard immediately left for home.

Police believed that sometime during the day, he took Helle's body, by then frozen solid, to a secluded piece of property that he owned in Newtown. There, it is believed, he used the Stihl chainsaw on her body to make several smaller parcels of her remains and returned them to the freezer. The next day, under the cover of darkness, Crafts then took these packages, wrapped in plastic garbage bags, to Lake Zoar where he ran them through the powerful woodchipper. Because of the time factors involved, police speculated that when Joseph Hine saw the U-Haul and woodchipper along the road, Crafts had already finished his gruesome work. He was parked along River Road because he was either running fresh wood through the chipper to clean it or was getting rid of evidence.

Richard Crafts in custody
Richard Crafts in custody (AP Wide)

What Crafts did not know at the time was that as the machine cast pieces of his wife into the river, some parts didn't quite make it to the water. Small fragments of her bones, strands of hair, broken teeth and some mail which Helle had placed in her pocket on the day of her death, fell to the ground.